Interesting Events in Early British History
Vortigern - AD c.425
Vortigern may have come to power in Britain about this time, possibly as "high-king." It is thought by some that Vortigern is not a name at all, but a title, meaning "over king." According to the available sources, Vortigern was a weak man of little character, possessing few redeeming personal qualities. It is hard to imagine that his ascent to power was by the acclaimation of the members of Britain's ruling council. It is, however, much easier to believe that he gained his throne by treachery and murder.
Some support for this view is lent by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his 12th century "History of the Kings of Britain." In it, Geoffrey tells us of a King Constantine, who had three sons, Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius (the Ambrosius Aurelianus of actual history) and Utherpendragon (the imaginary future father of Arthur). Geoffrey says that Constantine was killed by a Pictish assassin, leaving the eldest son, Constans, as king.
As Constans was still quite young, Vortigern had himself installed as the king's advisor, and before long, conspired to have the young king killed. With the king out of the way, Vortigern seized the crown for himself, realizing that Aurelius Ambrosius and Utherpendragon were mere babes and weren't in a position, at that time, to frustrate his designs.
According to the "Historia Brittonum," a ninth century compilation of writings by a Welsh monk called Nennius, Vortigern came to power threatened with three dangers on his mind:
"Vortigern ruled in Britain and during his rule in Britain he was under pressure, from fear of the Picts and the Irish (Scots), and of a Roman invasion, and, not least, from dread of Ambrosius."
The fear of the Picts and Scots was completely natural since the British northern defenses were ineffective and in severe disarray. The fear of a Roman invasion suggests either great paranoia on Vortigern's part (the Romans had had no presence in Britain for years) or that there was very good reason (of which we are ignorant, today) to be concerned about a reappearance of Roman soldiers on the shores of Britain.
The final fear, of Ambrosius, is the most interesting of all and poses a bit of a problem. If Geoffrey's account can be believed, then Vortigern dreaded the retribution, for the murder of his father and older brother, that he knew would come when Ambrosius reached his majority. If Ambrosius had been born c.438, then Vortigern could defer his dread for some years. But,
it is believed by many that Ambrosius was the commander at the famous battle of Mt. Badon, the decisive British victory over the Saxons around the year 495. In the year 495, Ambrosius would have been 57 years old, and it would, indeed, be difficult to imagine a man of that age wielding a heavy sword and leading a mounted charge against the Saxon positions. So what is the solution?
There isn't a definitive one, but some have solved the problem by postulating two men named Ambrosius; the elder, whom Vortigern dreaded, and the younger, the hero of the British resistance of the mid-to-late fifth century and the victor of Mt. Badon. This is certainly possible. . .as there seem to have been a number of people with the same name in those days (ie. Maximus, Constantine, etc.). Why not two Ambrosii?
The more likely possibility, though, is that there was just one Ambrosius. Nennius referred to him as "the great king among all the kings of the British nation" and, as such, Ambrosius Aurelianus could have been the supreme overall commander of the engagement at Mt. Badon, with the function of front line battle leader going to a younger man, perhaps Arthur.
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